UK to take in refugee children separated from families in 'exceptional cases'

Britain will take in refugee children who have become separated from their families in Syria and other conflicts, the Government has announced.

No figure has been put on how many children will be accepted, but the UK will work with the UN to identify "exceptional cases" where vulnerable children would benefit from protection.

The scheme will only apply to children still in conflict zones and not those who have already reached Europe, as officials do not want to encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing.

A fund of up to £10 million will also be set up by the Department for International Development to help refugee and migrant children in Europe.

The plan is in addition to the programme to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

It was announced following calls from charities, led by Save the Children, for Britain to accept at least 3,000 young refugees who have reached Europe and are thought to be at serious risk from people traffickers.

Labour said it was a "welcome step forward" but urged the Government to do more to help vulnerable children, while one charity said the scheme had the potential to be "truly ground-breaking".

The scheme will only apply to children still in conflict zones. Credit: Reuters

However, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said most children were better off remaining in the region they came from so they could be re-united with any surviving family members. To help do this, the Government will provide extra resources to the the European Asylum Support Office.

"The UK Government takes its responsibility in asylum cases involving children very seriously," Mr Brokenshire said. "Ensuring their welfare and safety is at the heart of every decision made.

"The crisis in Syria and events in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond has separated a large number of refugee children from their families.

"The vast majority are better off staying in the region so they can be reunited with surviving family members. So we have asked the UNHCR to identify the exceptional cases where a child's best interests are served by resettlement to the UK and help us to bring them here."

Yvette Cooper, who chairs Labour's refugee task force, said more details were needed on how the scheme will work and how many children will be helped.

"I hope the Government will also look to help child refugees who have no family anywhere in Europe as they are immensely vulnerable too," she said.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham added: "The Government cannot continue to draw the false distinction between refugees in the region and refugees in Europe. Both are desperate and both need our help."

David Cameron faced criticism for comments about migrants on Wednesday. Credit: PA

Father Simon Cuff of Citizens UK, the charity behind the legal challenge to the Government on reuniting unaccompanied minors with their families, said the scheme had the potential to be "truly ground breaking, a real step forward for the desperate young refugees we have been working with in Calais, Dunkirk and beyond".

Kitty Arie of Save the Children said it could help thousands of young people.

She said: "We are pleased the Government has acted to help unaccompanied refugee children, including those who are alone in Europe without a mum or dad to look after them. They face freezing temperatures and the threat of exploitation, trafficking and abuse.

"The Government's promise to fast-track family reunification across Europe will help these vulnerable child refugees build a better life alongside their loved ones already here."

The announcement comes after David Cameron faced criticism for referring to refugees as a "bunch of migrants" during Prime Minister's Questions.

The Prime Minister accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell of never standing up for British people before saying: "They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais and said they could all come to Britain."

Mr Corbyn has written to Mr Cameron condemning what he described as his "inflammatory language" on such a sensitive issue.

Britain will take in children who have become separated from their families in Syria and other conflicts. Credit: Reuters